Read #1 book on Hinduism and enhance your understanding of ancient Indian history.
Read #1 book on Hinduism and enhance your understanding of ancient Indian history.

Ketaki Bakshi

Abstract Classics Others


Ketaki Bakshi

Abstract Classics Others



13 mins 481 13 mins 481

It was a very beautiful dawn. Cold gusts of wind were shaking the curtains of windows smoothly. Over the horizon, the Sun God had started to paint the canvas of the sky with breathtakingly beautiful shades of pink, orange, yellow, red, and faint blue. Birds were starting to wake; their soft chirps could be heard from over the palace windows. However, this beauty of nature could hardly make Panchaali feel any good.

Her mind was still racing through the events that had happened the day before. Her Pitashri, the royal king of Panchaal; had told her that he was planning for her swayamwara, with such a difficult competition of archery that only Arjun should be able to win it.

'But Pitashri, just now we have got the news that Pandavas and their mother have died by fire break at their palace in Varnavrata, then how could…' Dhrishtadyumna had interjected, looking thoroughly bewildered.

Even she had felt at lost. A mere thought, of death like that, for an elderly lady who had already suffered a lot from destiny, had seemed unbearable. A Chill had risen to her spine while thinking about Queen-mother Kunti. 'Why always innocents suffer the most excruciating of pains?' she had thought. Perhaps Krishna would have had an answer.

'We suspect it to be a very ugly but at the same time very cleverly plotted ploy son', Pitashri had said, bringing her back from thoughts to the mortal world. 'Duryodhan and his allies must have made this plan, I am sure of it. Even Krishna thinks so. We both believe to the bottoms of our heart that Pandavas along with their mother are well alive, but are in disguise. To make them come out of it, I am planning for Draupadi's swayamwara.'

Panchaali was still unsure of her feelings for swayamwara, but she was sure of the disgust she felt for Duryodhan and his allies. How on the earth had he gathered the courage to stoop so low? To try and kill an elderly woman whom he ought to have regarded as his mother? She wondered what Krishna might have answered to this.

'Delusions, and perhaps fear it is…that drives him to do something horrible each time. One must not try to take control of the situation when there are choices open to be made…People often believe, it is them controlling the situations when in actual, it's the contrary that is true…'  Krishna's reply echoed in her mind along with his enigmatic yet lovely smile.

She felt very disgruntled thinking about all this while pacing up and down in her palace room. Sleep had eluded her, because of the fate that Pitashri had already chosen for her. Where was her choice in it? Now if Pandavas were dead, or if they simply refused to come out of disguise, what would become of her at swayamwara? Everyone seemed more than convinced that Arjun was her future, even Krishna. He had hinted so twice or thrice but had not given any definite answer. Definite answers never made their way through him. Perhaps he enjoyed watching people getting perplexed at his not-so-easy to understand retorts.

'You must make your own choice…. For…each choice has…. its own result.' He used to say. She would make some defiant replies but he would only smile, amused to see her frustration. But that was the most lovable part of their eternal friendship. He had always been there, whenever she had needed him. His friendship was the most generous boon she had ever had; at least she felt so.

Lost in deep thoughts, she walked out of the palace and absent-mindedly started walking towards the stable. Most of the servants and servant-maids were still dozing off, so she reached to her favorite chariot without any interruption.

Recently she had had her lessons to drive the chariot from Pitashri's main charioteer. Not that the princesses were taught to do so, but she had been an exception to all. She had learned it on will when Dhrishtadyumna had pestered her for not being able to drive a chariot.

'It is always the willpower that matters. Whatever mind can conceive, it can achieve.' She had believed so firmly in it…always…! That was why the feeling of being dependent on someone's choice was making her feel dejected and uncertain. 'How can I attach my life to another person's decision, given that the other one might have his own interests and priorities in place?' It was feeling very annoying and frustrating not being able to change the situation.

'For the greater good...! Do not try to control everything Panchaali…destiny has her plans…sometimes you must choose to believe them…' Krishna had said once. However, what the difference between the two was, she did not understand. Smiling to herself, she mounted on the chariot and drove it towards the huge temple of Lord Shiva, situated in mountains, in the hope of finding peace and most importantly…answers…!


Karna felt very despondent. Something inside his heart was aching constantly. However powerful loath he had felt for Arjun, he didn't want him to die this way. Also, Queen-Mother Kunti's benign face was ever-present in his heart. She had always been nice to him. Even though he was Duryodhan's best friend and Arjun's most fierce competitor.

When Pratihari told him the news of their death, he had felt as though his legs had gone numb. Duryodhan had committed a dangerous sin and he had not been able to stop him…again!!

Karna's heart kept weeping at such a horrific death for that elderly lady, and her ill-fated five sons whose faces were going to haunt him forever.

But what could he have done? He wasn't going to oppose Duryodhan, because he had sworn to stand by him for life. Duryodhan had given him respect when everyone else had kept insulting him for being a charioteer's son. His opposition might have hurt Duryodhan. It might have made him doubt his loyalty.

Somewhere, he also believed that after King Pandu relinquished the throne, it was not righteous for his sons to come back and ask for their right to be heirs of his kingdom. Duryodhan was certainly acting wrong, but it was not for a baseless thing.

However, the way that he had chosen to get his rightful throne seemed horrible to Karna. To burn them alive with their mother? No…He couldn't bear the burden of sin that had fallen on him for being silent. They said that abiding by dharma releases you of pain, worry, and sin. And he was abiding by his mitra-dharma. Then why was this constant pain bullying him over?

Unable to stand the turmoil of restlessness and pain, he stormed off towards his native place, away from Hastinapur, far away in his kingdom of Anga.


Panchaali's chariot had galloped speed. Crossing away the flat portions of land, they were now heading upwards; through the zigzag ways carved in mountains. Still lost in the whirl of thoughts, she was making horses gallop even more speed… twists and turns had started becoming blind and steep…and…with a sudden jerk to the chariot, she lost balance, the reins slipped away from her hands…!

She started struggling hard to get them back, but the chariot was running at such a speed, that it seemed almost herculean. It was now speeding fast towards a dangerous turn. Horses would have turned on their own, but the chariot was sure to skid into the valley. Her mouth had gone dry; while the body was going numb. 'Damn…now what? Krishna...Save me…'

They were now dangerously close to the turn. Suddenly, a shower of arrows passed over her head. It formed a wall at the turning, on which, the backside of the chariot bumped with a loud thud and turned with horses. The next arrow came and reins jumped high into the air. Swiftly, she captured them. Biting her own lower lip and applying all her might, she controlled the chariot and made it stop a little distance farther.

"Impressive," said a deep voice. Panting, she just gaped at the stranger. He was tall and handsome. His serene blue eyes; marked under arched brows, were looking at her with pure admiration. A huge bow was held in his strong hand, while the other held an exactly similar arrow that just had made reins jump into the air. Indeed, he must have been a highly skilled archer. He was smiling warmly, looking deeply impressed.

"What?" asked Panchaali, her face was shining with sweat droplets that were trickling down to her neckline. Curls of long hairs were flying half-astray; she was still panting and was bewildered at his heroic entry out of nowhere. Even so, she looked extremely beautiful.

'Impressive…you have very good control over the chariot. Excellent for a lady", he said, dismounting from his horse.

'Lady? What on the earth it has got to do with this? She jeered, looking even more confused. 'Society often has decided what one should and should not do Devi, even if we do not wish so. To them, birth decides it already, not choice', He said, eyes filled with some unfathomable sadness.

'Why should it even matter? It is not what one is born, but what they grow up to be. And that is decided by one's choices. Birth has nothing to do with it.' She interjected, feeling restless.

'Identity is decided by birth and not worth, is it not? Charioteer's son must become a charioteer. That is his identity. ' He replied.

'Certainly not, if he does not want so…Kumar…what makes you think so unreasonable?' She exclaimed. 'I am just reiterating what I have been told Devi…It is unreasonable for you, but obvious for society.' He said, desperately trying to keep his voice steady.

Panchaali could not hold back her disagreement. She blurted out, 'Had that been true, Krishna would never have made it to become Dwarakadhish, nor Prince Duryodhan would have needed to conspire against his own cousins.'

'Duryodhan's stance is situation-relevant, Devi, it depends on your perception. To a mouse, a cat is a monster. But it is certainly not so for us. It is the perspective we choose to look with.' He replied calmly.

'Are you trying to reason his behavior?' She asked, her eyes had widened with shock.

'It is incorrect to conclude something without hearing the other side, Devi; we cannot expect dharmic behavior from someone whose conscience beholds bias. Duryodhan's father is king to Hastinapur. Why should he accept his cousin to be the heir? King Pandu relinquished the throne on his own. Then how come his sons ask the right of being heirs?' He asked, trying to reason.

'I don't recall that King Dhritarashtra was ever declared the rightful king, he was declared a caretaker on King Pandu's stead, but I don't want to discuss that. Another point seems more exasperating to me. So, if a charioteer's son has to become a charioteer, it is wrong. But a King's son to become the next king is acceptable… Truth is that… Kumar…The King can never be chosen by birth or right. Instead, it should be his worth. If the subjects don't accept him as a king then what is the use? If one wants to be Emperor, then he needs to rule the hearts of subjects and not just a piece of land', She said, with a tone of derision which wasn't evasive enough to ignore.

He smiled. This lady was a beauty with brains. For a split second, he couldn't find a point to counter her.

'This is just sophistry, Devi. Has anyone ever behaved like this, so far? Look at it this way. Has society ever denied you what your heart had desired the most? The respect you had wanted? Your efforts to establish an identity that was different from your birth? The Pain of rejection is unfathomable Devi, that too, when one knows that he is able. Duryodhan certainly proved that his heart is at the right place by offering respect and a righteous chance to a charioteer's son when the society and noble Pandavas had denied doing so.

Panchaali rolled her eyes. 'Kumar, you are backing his adharma just because of this act. Integration cannot always be applied to life. Who knows that it wasn't originated out of self-interest? Whatever it was, it certainly can't justify his attempts in past to kill an innocent boy with poison nor to burn alive an elderly lady by some illusion. Pandavas might not have acted noble, but they certainly haven't been ruthless. The root of dharma is empathy, Kumar, and it is most important to understand the cause of pain before trying to fathom its intensity.'

His face got contorted with despondency. 'So, Anagaraj Karna's pain is worthless to you as well Devi. You fail to consider his dejection, perhaps because he is not that important.'

'I would have considered, had he shown the courage to stop what was wrong. Nothing hurts more than the silence of wise; I would rather say it's an unpardonable sin! No one's pain is worthless Kumar, but you have to be able to see the pains of others as well. Angaraj might have been able, but his choices don't underline his intentions to be dharmic. Raavan was able too, but his choices made him a villain. I can understand rebelling against society to gain respect, but allying with Duryodhan, standing by him in adharma as well; that is horrible.'

'Karna only tried to abide by his mitra-dharma, Devi, isn't a friend in need considered to be the true one? Perhaps everything happened with such lightning speed that he did not get time to react. Perhaps life had been so unfair to him that he found it unworthy to stand against the only friend he had got…Someone being declared 'the best' even without a fair chance to the other, isn't that horrible? Is expecting mere respect for the talent we have, that…that…horrible..?' His voice broke.

Panchaali frowned. Some moments passed with silence. 'Perhaps, he could have tried to show Duryodhan what actual dharma was. To make him realize that he can't control things always! Life…Life is unfair to everyone Kumar…hasn't it been so to Pandavas? To Krishna as well? And why worry about being declared the best? Isn't being so in ourselves not sufficient? You talk about expectation…I think it is a mere attempt to hold on to reins that aren't ours to control…release them...let life unfold at its own galloping speed…!'

She stared at the reins in her hand…and it seemed that this was the answer to even her question. 'Let life unfold; let us see what happens…why have fury over not having a choice? For sometimes it was not important to be able to choose but to accept what was happening, without trying to control it. At least, for the greater good. Well, that was the difference…difference between control and choice!!' Her face broke into a wide smile.

Even he seemed to have understood this. It seemed unreasonable to him to cry over situations after they had passed. He couldn't change what was done, but he could try to show righteousness to Duryodhan in the future. As for society, Why expect someone to behave in a certain way? As he had his reasons for not being able to stop Duryodhan, people also might have had theirs to loath him. Why try to control? Why fury over not being accepted by them? Being true to your dharma and karma was enough! Let us see what destiny has in her store…!!! 

Happiness twinkled in his eyes too, for the first time. Smiling, he said, 'but be it life or chariot, speed without control can lead to devastation, right?'

Panchaali understood the pun. Smiling back, she said, 'Life is like water… isn't it? Without speed, it ceases to flow…and stagnant water stinks. It is important to have control over speed and direction both. The speed with the direction does lead to the destination instead of devastation.'

'But we never are in control right? We are mere puppets of destiny, time, and the almighty one.' He said.

'True that, but he has given us the ability to do our karma. Staying true to our karma and dharma will certainly grant us the right direction and speed. These are the reins that control the chariot of life, Angaraj Karna, and are ours to hold. Ask yourself if you have the right reins in your hand.'

He was shocked to hear his name. Astounded, he asked, 'how did you…?'

Panchaali smiled. Choosing not to answer that question, she said,' I was not clear about the choice and control either. Now that I understand it, I think I will be able to behave more wisely.'

'Yes, I think I also have understood, that my dharma is at least to try and make Duryodhan get his correct reins…for…it is true that I cannot abandon him. I will try at my level best.' He seemed certain.

'Glad you straightened that out…Now…I must leave, for, I have received my answers and you have yours, so goodbye till destiny makes us meet again Angaraj…!'

Panchaali turned and skillfully drove the chariot away. Karna kept looking at her narrowing figure standing in the whirl of dust that was blown by her chariot. For he had never felt so clear and calm. And he felt that destiny was going to make them meet again…for sure..!!!

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